Close Reading

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A Close Reading Essay of the Poem:
“Mail Call”
By Randall Jarrell
In Randall Jarrell’s poem; “Hope”, the poem reads, “The spirit killeth, but the letter giveth life” (1). A letter maybe only words and thoughts on a piece of paper to some but to others: like the soldiers in “Mail Call, a letter is a sense of hope but only if the letter contains something good. In the poem, “Hope”, Randall Jarrell tells how one goes about living their life day by day, never changing. He refers to week as a hand being dealt the same cards and the same hand. The only thing that changing is: when the Mailman comes and brings a letter. One never knows what life is going to bring or what the letter’s going to say. It’s as though one is asking for disappointment. Then he goes on saying, “A Mailman unawares--- And as you cry, Impossible” (16-17). Meaning, the Mailman doesn’t know if the letter has made one happy, sad, angry, etc. He only delivers the mail and goes his own way. The poem, “Hope” and “Mail Call” both deliver the message that without these letters, there’s no hope, there’s nothing to look forward to. “The soldiers are haunted by their lives, their claims upon their kind are paid in paper” (5-6) through all the killings, death, and blood, the soldiers see, they at least have this one thing to look forward to. Every day, the soldiers are exposed to the same thing, death. The only aspect that changes is, if they get a letter and the words on that piece of paper. “One skates like a stone into a beam, falls like a bird” (2). Randall creates a depressing imagery of the soldiers, comparing them to stones and where they’ve been shot to a bird falling but then he says, “Surely the past from which the letters rise, is waiting in the future, past the graves?” (3-4). throughout the poem, Randall uses words like “evade”, “graves”, “haunted”, all these words have a negative denotation but when he starts to talk the letters, he then uses the words, “future’, “dreams”, “wishes”....
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